Inquisitive Minds Podcast Critical Thinking on History, Religion, Politics and Culture

This last episode on Whitmarsh's Battling the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World focuses on atheism in the Roman Empire. The rise of Rome brought with it the belief that the Empire's existence was the result of a divine mandate. Some opposing voices were raised against this idea of divine providence. Atheistic arguments circulated through various doxographies written mostly by people opposing non-believers. These texts give us insight into how disbelievers argued somewhat successfully against theistic perspectives. As Rome embraced Christianity, rulers such as Theodosius I (379-395 CE) established that it was now insufficient to simply adopt the right religion; one also needed to adhere to the right theological position on the right religion. Codex Theodosianus goes as far as treating "heresy" (which was now clearly understood as an incorrect theological position) as crime against the state. According to this law, "any crime committed against divine religion is treated as an aggression against everyone".

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This week on the Inquisitive Minds Podcast, we discuss Canada's Supreme Court ruling which declared that the Government of Quebec had infringed on the religious freedom of Montreal's Loyola High School. This decision will have serious repercussions since it could incite other religious groups to request for the same exemptions as those of Loyola. This question is also at the heart of the current debate on secularism in Quebec. It is quite surprising to see how a secular state has so much difficulties establishing its own educational policies.

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In this last episode on atheism, we critique Gavin Hyman's idea that today's atheistic discourse is a reaction to modern theological conceptions of God, as expressed thought the work of 14th century philosopher and theologian, John Duns Scotus. In reality, Scotus' theological language is not modern; rather, it is a return to biblical notions about God. Duns Scotus rejected Aquinas' doctrine of analogy and God's ontology in favor of the idea that "being" is univocal to the created and uncreated. In the end, is sophisticated theological discourse too virtual in nature?

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In our series on atheism, we continue our review of Gavin Hyman's article, "Atheism in Modern History." René Descartes' Cartesian model was the rejection of Thomas Aquinas' theological method, where human reason was subject to the authority of divine revelation. Aquinas emphasized God's transcendence through analogical language; he believed that this was the only adequate way one could speak of the divine. Many philosophers, however, insisted on using rationalism and/or empirical sense data, even in the realm of theological inquiry. According to Hyman, modernity brought with it a "domestication of God", where the divine was now defined in quantitative terms, rather than with qualitative language. But Hyman also sees the shift from analogical language to a more "hypostatic" and representational conception of God, as the result of theological speculation in the 14th century C.E.

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In this week's episode, we discuss the content of Gavin Hyman's interesting piece in the Cambridge Companion to Atheism entitled, "Atheism in Modern History." In his article, Hyman describes what he considers being an inextricable connection between atheism and modernity. He also explains how the English term "atheism" was first used in 1540 by Sir John Clarke in his translation of Plutarch's On Superstition, and was understood as "a denial of the intervention of divine providence, rather than a denial of the existence of God." It is only in the 18th and 19th centuries that the expression was used in a self-definitional way by French philosopher Denis Diderot, and by Charles Bradlaugh, a British parliamentary member who founded the National Secular Society in 1866.


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This week's podcast is dedicated to the social impact of atheism. Some people today are "coming out" as atheists and speak about how religion has negatively affected their lives. They also advocate for a complete separation of government and religion. In the past few years, we have seen the rise of what some call the "New Atheists". Often labelled as radical and outspoken, these individuals have made a tremendous impact on the lives of millions people through their writings; for example, just think of the influential works of the famous "Four Horsemen": Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens, and Harris. Many other prominent writers, bloggers, and vloggers have now followed their lead. But what exactly is atheism? How does it differ from theism and other forms of beliefs or non-beliefs? These are some of the questions we address in this episode.
 
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Embracing a Mind / Body dualism requires a leap of faith or a dose of magical thinking since one cannot explain how immateriality interacts with the physical world. But many people, nevertheless, hold onto such an illusion. For example, this is why some think that quantum physics has supposedly solved the "hard problem of consciousness". This week on the Inquisitive Minds Podcast, we briefly discuss the impact of Descartes' Cartesian dualism and its consequences for understanding the relationship between mind and body. We also notice that first-generation of Cognitive scientists (1950s-60s) adopted a similar perspective and but that a significant change was brought about by second-generation researchers (70s +): embodied realism. Our goal is to explore some of the philosophical and scientific assumptions behind common held beliefs about consciousness, scientific inquiry, quantum physics and the afterlife.

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A fundamentalist reading of the apparitions of Jesus tries to explain the conflicting accounts through harmonization; but the careful and critical reader quickly sees that this is simply an impossible task. These stories are not "historical" in nature, but rather "theological" (or ideological). The gospel writers clearly had an agenda; they wanted to convince people of their point of view. One way Christians sought to legitimize their claims about Jesus was through the use of the Hebrew Bible. In a sense, Jewish texts (but also other Greco-Roman stories) served as templates from which the gospel writers created their own stories about Jesus. In the podcast, we also try to understand belief in the resurrection from a cultural anthropological perspective, and briefly speak of how cognition and culture play a role in religious experience.

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This week on the Inquisitive Minds Podcast, we will start discussing The End of Biblical Studies (Prometheus) by Dr. Hector Avalos, a biblical scholar at the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies at Iowa State University. 

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Many people say they have received an answer to prayer at some point in their life. Some are convinced that God hears prayer. Christians even believe it can serve as a way to influence God. Through prayer, one can obtain financial success, experience salvation, heal the sick, and defeat the forces of evil. But how can we explain that people from different faith traditions – beliefs that are most often contrary from one another – all claim answers to their prayers? How can God answer different (and opposite) requests at the same time? Do Allah and Yahweh both answer prayers? What about unanswered prayer? Believers certainly pray that God would make the world a better place, but suffering and evil are far from being eradicated. Is there really a divine being listening to people’s requests?

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